Wongkaeo: Thailand have a real chance of making history
Wongkaeo scored four times as Thailand qualified for Lithuania 2021
He has figured prominently in the past two Futsal World Cups
The Thailand captain is looking to help his side into the last-eight for the first time
Thailand captain Kritsada Wongkaeo seems to be a key figure whenever his nation is reaching new futsal milestones. Nine years back, he figured prominently scoring twice for the hosts at the 2012 FIFA Futsal World Cup Thailand™ where his side stormed into the Round of 16 for the first time. Four years later, the dynamic winger was on fire racking up another four goals at Colombia 2016 as Thailand again progressed to the second round, this time for the first time on foreign soil. And if his past World Cup form is anything to go by, it seems that Wongkaeo looks set to break more new ground at Lithuania 2021 this September. "My expectations for the upcoming Futsal World Cup are to help Thailand to the quarter-finals," the 33-year-old told FIFA.com. "And I believe it is also what our team are expecting. The opponents will be tough on the international stage but with our experience [from the past World Cups] and with our youth talents, I think we have a real chance of making to the last eight." Pitted against European powerhouse Portugal, Morocco and Solomon Islands in Group C, he is well aware that their campaign will be challenging. "We are in a tough group, of course," commented Wongkaeo, who is Thailand's third all-time international scorer with 95 goals from 76 caps across a 12-year international career. "Portugal are a stronger team and Morocco are also a good side. And even Solomon Islands are a team which we can't afford to underestimate as they have players with great techniques. "Our opening game against Portugal will be very tough. However, the next two matches against Morocco and Solomon Islands will be the games where we can truly compete. We need to take points against both teams if we are to qualify for the next round."
Growing popularity One of Asia's futsal powerhouses, Thailand began their love story with the Futsal World Cup over two decades ago when they sealed maiden qualification for Guatemala 2000. They went on to qualify for the next two editions at Chinese Taipei 2004 and Brazil 2008, but a major breakthrough didn't come until their heroics at Thailand 2012. Then Wongkaeo and Co. pulled off a 3-1 victory against Costa Rica in the opener and, despite losing to Ukraine (5-3) and Paraguay (3-2), they progressed courtesy of their scoring-tally. At the ensuing knockout stage Thailand fell short against Spain losing 6-1 with Wongkaeo netting their only goal. "During that campaign, our team didn't have much experience at the global level,” he said. “Playing in front of our supporters, we were able to showcase our potential.” Four years on, a much-improved Thailand took their group by storm at Colombia 2016, defeating first Cuba (8-5) and then Egypt (2-1) and only lost to eventual finalists Russia (6-4) to reach the second round. Wongkaeo opened his account against Cuba, before striking a hat-trick against Azerbaijan only to see his side lose 13-8 in an extra-time thriller. "In Colombia we produced a series of good performances and even against Azerbaijan, I felt we played a good game. It was disappointing but the experience is good for the team. "The national team's success over recent years has made a huge impact on the local competition. Futsal has gained growing popularity in Thailand with the Thai Futsal League attracting increasing attention. As a result, a new generation of players have emerged and will represent our country in the future." Having won nearly everything at club level with Chonburi Bluewave, including nine Thai league titles and two continental crowns at the AFC Futsal Club Championship, Wongkaeo has naturally switched his focus on scaling new heights at international level. And he just achieved his initial goal, scoring four times as Thailand routed Iraq 11-2 in the Asian qualifying playoff to seal their sixth Futsal World Cup appearance. "As I said, my current goal is to take Thailand to the Futsal World Cup quarter-finals. Of course, going all the way to the final and winning it is also what I would like achieve, but it is really difficult and I need to be realistic.”